Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee
Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee
Photo: Jonathan Wenk (Freeform)
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For the last couple of seasons, The Bold Type has found itself in the curious position of being both hindered by and dependent on Jane (Katie Stevens). On the one hand, Jane is often the conduit to the show’s central storylines—a sort of story-of-the-week format sending her out to do some light ax-throwing or meet a cool artist or hit a sex party, that kind of thing—and she’s key to some of the most affecting stories the series has told, namely “Carry The Weight” and a seasons-long throughline about the BRCA gene. On the other hand, The Bold Type inexplicably loves to have Jane make things all about herself, and the apparent gap between how the series sees Jane and how the audience may see her has bogged down many an otherwise solid episode. But when a Jane storyline is actually about Jane (or, conversely, when it’s not about her at all and she doesn’t manage to make it so), everything else falls into place.

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So it is with “Leveling Up,” an efficient, well-constructed hour that uses big changes in Jane’s life as a jumping-off point to explore changes in the rest of our central trio. The episode begins with a surprisingly affecting recovery montage—surprising because I thought, like anyone who writes about television might, that I’d developed a tolerance to sad pop montages. This one got me. It’s incredibly simple, tracking Jane’s return home from the hospital after her double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery and the three months that follow by means of her slowly increasing range of movement, her improved spirits, her emotional responses to texts from Pinstripe, and the wilting of floral arrangements and consumption of get well snacks. It includes some great work from Katie Stevens, but also from Aisha Dee, Meghann Fahy, and Matt Ward as Kat, Sutton, and Alex (!) help care for their ailing friend.

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But what’s most impressive about the recovery montage is that it’s not a shortcut or means to an end, because Jane’s story throughout this episode is one of recovery. The Bold Type doesn’t always get things right, but it always tries to, and rarely shies away from the more complicated answer to almost any question. The recovery montage shows us Jane as she recovers her physical health and grieves her relationship, but the process of grieving her breasts is neither ignored nor diminished. The plot of the episode centers more on Jane’s adjustment to her new position at Scarlet but every facet of it is touched in some way by her complex relationship to the changes in her body and her life. She and Sutton are “leveling up,” so she should be looking cute and saying the right things and having all the answers and joining The Wing The Belle. But her clothes don’t fit and her office is empty and she can’t tell whether or not people are actually staring at her breasts or if it’s all in her head. It’s a lot, and to its credit, The Bold Type doesn’t pretend otherwise. The result might be a series-best episode for Jane and for Katie Stevens.

The focus stays relatively tight—no Jacqueline sub-plot this week, nothing big for Alex or Oliver or any of the other supporting characters—as Kat and Sutton confront their own big life changes and make room for more to come. Kat’s life has changed a lot in the last three months; the cute British bartender with an affinity for pegging is nowhere to be seen, and Kat seems instead to be in some sort of casual throuple with two climate change activists with whom she’s been working. But after her parents arrive to “get things out of storage” (?) and see Kat and her partner waiting to surprise their third in the nude, they tell her it’s time she stop making herself unemployable (their words) and get a job, or they’ll start renting out her palatial apartment.

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Kat’s story is the simplest of the three, as she’s given the chance to define her priorities for herself. Again, it’s not as simple as “Kat cares more about her beliefs than money,” though that’s generally the jist. The New York of The Bold Type is a fantasy, but the show has also done a decent job of reminding us that Kat, Jane, and Sutton grew up in very different economic circumstances, and Kat recognizes the privileged financial sphere she’s inhabited to this point. Her response isn’t “Money! Who needs it?” and instead the show places her in a position to interrogate how best to use her voice and fight for change while finding ways to pay her rent.

Sutton’s storyline—minus the puking, which we’ll obviously get to in a moment—is also about the character defining for herself what matters most in her professional life. In this case, it’s a surprisingly effective story about Sutton styling Mara, a young Disney Channel children’s network star eager to change her image as she approaches adulthood, and Sutton’s response to hearing that a previous indiscretion has made the young woman a no-go for the showroom with which she’s working. Again, it’s pretty simple, but the idea is that Sutton realizes the real nature of her job is to set the subjects of the magazine’s features up for success, making them feel good in a way that will leap off the page. After she learns the context of Mara’s earlier theft, she begins to understand that she was more concerned about her relationship to the showroom than to Mara and in doing so failed at her duties; some soul-searching, good advice from Richard, and an eleventh-hour assist from both Jane and Kat (especially Jane) allows her to course-correct and do right by Mara. And I must say, the idea of Scarlet running a bunch of iPhone photos without professional lighting or makeup seems a lot more likely now than it might have a few months ago.

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But the nausea that chases Sutton throughout the hour doesn’t come from nerves or guilt or anything else. Turns out she’s pregnant, something that should have become clear to viewers right around the time she ralphed in a plant at The Wing The Belle. The Bold Type has succeeded in making Sutton’s relationship with Richard about a million percent more engaging and appealing than it has any right to be, and this seems like a hell of a place to start a story for them. Sometimes we work to achieve big life changes; sometimes they’re a hard-fought choice. But sometimes they just happen. Jane’s got her vertical and a new complex relationship to her body and her health. Kat has new priorities and a new economic reality. And for Sutton and Richard, everything is about to change, yet again.

Stray observations

  • Hello! We’ve moved to drop-in coverage of The Bold Type, so you can expect to see another review when the finale arrives, but not weekly coverage. Feel free to tweet at me about Melora Hardin’s suits any time.
  • Hell of a week for this episode to air, given today’s news about The Wing and the recent conversation about corporate social media policies. I’ll be especially curious to see where things go with the story about The Belle; the show’s fondness for doing the odd ripped-from-the-headlines story makes it seem likely that we might be headed here.
  • While Alex moving out is perhaps not great news for the character, who’s rarely been used all that well by the show, it’s a surprisingly potent little solution. Jane’s realization of the nature of Alex’s choice hit harder than it had any reason to. Here’s hoping they figure out a more organic way to keep Alex in the fold moving forward.
  • Look of the week: Listen, I love (love) a good Jacqueline Carlyle suit, and the plaid-peplum thing was great. But good god, Kat’s martini olive sweater! Get out of my dreams, get into my car.
  • My biggest complaint is the same as always: Not nearly enough Oliver. There’s never enough Oliver.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.

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